Underwater Research Group of New South Wales
December is well and truly happening. Can't believe how fast this year has gone.
So many members have been away this month it is hard to keep track. I noticed with glee that Michael has somehow found the time between his travels to wrangle a number of dive stories together out of various folk so hope you enjoy the articles that follow.
For those who are interested, this coming weekend (9-11 Dec) Nelson Bay is having a sea-slug census. They will also be having a Xmas get together on Saturday 10th after the dive near the Little Beach Boathouse carpark so if you're going bring a plate of your favourite nibbles. Flyer with more info attached at the bottom of this bulletin. Their email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you need to get in touch.
The Australian Museum has a shark exhibition now on, so if you're looking for something to entertain the kids or are curious yourself, go check it out.
Remember to check the dive calendar for up and coming dives in December. Details on how to book on are Upcoming Events section near the end of the bulletin. Apologies to those that picked up that the site menu on mobile had vanished and so accessing the calendar on your device was practically impossible, and shame on you if you didn't notice! We've now also added a shortcut icon on the home screen to take you straight to the dive calendar.
There is also an ocean clean-up at Bare Island on Sat, Dec 17th, 10:30 am. Come join us for a fun ocean clean-up, BBQ, a talk on banning shark nets and lots of amazing prizes at Bare Island. Everyone - scuba divers, free divers, snorkelers & beach walkers are welcome!
Myself and Charlie recently returned from a two week trip to PNG (more on that in an article to follow) .... and I promptly broke my nose on my first day back at work in a surf collision, so I'm back in hospital this weekend to get my schnoz rearranged into a shape that aligns my glasses to my eye-balls.
Some PNG reef fish, a cross-eyed pipe horse and coral
Hope you all have a wonderful festive season, stay safe on your travels and see you all in the new year.
Taveuni Fiji 2022
By Michael Abbott
Janet and I were lucky enough to get to Taveuni in late 2022. This had been booked in covid quarantine times so we had to stop over in Nadi. Fiji is only a 4 hour flight and has no tropical diseases or terrorist threats etc. Easy and family friendly.
A word of advice if you book with Fiji Airways straight through to Taveuni your 30 kg luggage alliance for international carries through to your final destination. As we stopped over we only had 15 kg on the small plane for the 70 minute domestic flight over the northern islands of Fiji. They weigh you getting on the plane and allocate seats to trim the aircraft. The view is sensational over coral reefs, green islands and blue water.
We stayed and dived with Paradise Resort and I cannot recommend Allan, Terri and the team highly enough. Nothing was too much trouble and all staff were very friendly and eager to help. Once your arrived you dont touch your bags or gear again until you get to the airport to leave. The food was lovely and heaps off it.
Accommodation was luxury bures with indoor and outdoor showers, lounge, fridge and tea making and king size beds in separate rooms. All set in a manicured garden overlooking the ocean. Also they have deep water frontage so no lost or delayed dives due to tide being out.
All diving was nothing short of spectaclular. We did the white wall twice which is rated as one of the best dives in the world. Personally we both liked the Purple Wall more as it ended in a coral head where the hard coral was being smothered by every shade of soft coral and orange basslets swarmed like flys.
Dive 1, after dropping onto the reef top in 5 meters of crystal clear water you glide down a swim through to emerge at 27 meters on a wall of white soft coral that extends down into the deep and ahead for around 40 meters. Then as you drift along you gradully rise to the reef top covered in hard and soft corals and down through the swimthough again this time emerging at 15 meters. Slow assent and safety stop in coral garden in a swarm of colourfull fish. Temperature 27 degrees celcius, visabilty 40 meters.
After cinamon scrolls, pineapple and water on the boat you do it all again and get back to the Resort in time for lunch. Most afternoons were spent lazing by the pool, snorkling or relaxing on our balcony daybed or another of the ocean or sunset view chairs scattered around the Resort. Seven days was about right but really we did not want to leave.
We also did the shore dive twice. You request a time and your gear miaraculously appears set up on the wharf ready to go with a staff member ready to help you. Then its just a giant stride off the steps into 3 meters of water, down and out 25 meters to the bouy which sits in 5 meters on the top of the drop off. Following the wall back and forward at various depths all the usual tropical fish and hard corals are in abundence. My favourite was a large ball of Oxeye Scad being rounded up and hunted by 15 Blue Line Trevally.
Fishes where too numerous to mention. Basically all the tropicals you can think of are found on the Rainbow Reefs. There were lots of Butterfly fish and I counted 13 types, 3 types of Hawkfish, 5 types of Angel fish including a Swallowtail Angelfish which is new to me, Goatfish, Damsels, Parrotfish, Bannerfish, turtles, White Tip Reef Sharks, Triggerfish, Anenome Fish, Dart Fish and lots of Wrasse including Napolean and Rockmover etc. You get the picture.
Diving is easy, mostly on walls and finishing on reef top, water is warm, boats are comfortable and dive crew and guides overly helpful. You dont come here for large animals or pelagic action but for the colour in the corals and fishes. In a few words, spectacular easy dive holiday. Highly recommended.
Orangefin anemone Fish (endemic to Fiji)
White Wall Taveuni Fiji located in Somosomo Strait.
Shark diving at Protea Banks, South Africa
By Erik Schlögl
Back in July I had the opportunity to do five days of diving at Protea Banks in South Africa. The Protea Banks are located in the Indian Ocean about 8km offshore from the town of Margate, which is about two hours’ drive south of Durban’s King Shaka International Airport. Diving was with African Dive Adventures, doing daily double dives off a (reasonably big) rubber inflatable boat (RIB). Protea Banks is a Marine Protected Area, and the main game is: Sharks!
But before I get to the sharks, let me say a bit about the diving – serious stuff. It starts with a beach launch of the RIB at what the locals call a “harbour”, but what is really just a section of the beach protected by a single breakwater on the south side. Obviously, this means changing into a wetsuit in the carpark before getting on the boat, an aspect which some of the divers holidaying from Europe hadn’t quite expected – not the “full service” dive experience that one might encounter at more typical dive holiday destinations. And after the boat was dropped into the water, we all helped spin the boat around to face into the surf – then it was time to hop on and the skipper hit the throttle to punch through the surf into the open ocean. It was an impressive display of boat handling, and that was a good thing, as while I was there at least one group of recreational fishers capsized their boat (luckily there were only some minor cuts and bruises, but the boat engines were a write-off). Once past the surf, it was a reasonably smooth ride through the long Indian Ocean swell to the dive site.
Protea Banks is known for strong currents, and while I was there the current was running at about 8km/h (measured by the rate of drift of the boat according to the GPS) every day. So the dive protocol was always: Drift dive in single group of about 10 divers with one dive guide, who was holding a surface marker buoy on a line so the boat could easily follow while we were underwater. A surface marker buoy also was to be carried by every diver. If you lose the group, surface immediately, because if you don’t, you might never be found again (luckily, while I was there this part of the protocol wasn’t tested). Negative buoyancy entry – no faffing about on the surface to signal “I’m OK, I’m a PADI diver!” After entry, the group immediately and rapidly descended (I did have trouble equalising on a couple of dives, so I made sure to hold position close to the dive guide float line, so I could follow that down once I managed to equalise – viz was only about 8m). At 36 to 38m depth, we reached the bottom. Very pretty sponge growth, similar but different to Sydney, fishes and nudibranchs also similar but different species than we’re used to, all were flashing by at about 8km/h until we got to the objective: a cave so densely filled with grey nurse sharks (Carcharias taurus – South Africans call them ragged-tooth sharks) that it was a bit of a squeeze to get in there and out of the current. There we could relax and spend a bit of time with the grey nurse sharks, though not too long given the depth. By the time we left the cave, we were in deco, so it was time for a slow open water ascent drifting in the current and completing all deco and safety stops (I had up to 20 minutes of those per dive).
That was the time for the interesting sharks (as in, the ones we don’t usually see in Sydney). During the ascent oceanic blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus), usually about 2m long, came quite close to check us out – note that these are quite distinct from what we know as blacktip reef sharks in Australia. We also saw a hammerhead shark (unsure which species – I didn’t get a photo) and several bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas – known as Zambezi sharks in South Africa). This was the first time I’ve ever heard bull sharks described as “shy”, but yes, compared to the oceanic blacktips they were shy and kept their distance. Two of the dives I did were “baited shark dives” – there we just spent 60 minutes at depths between 10 and 20m, drifting with a bait container in the open ocean. That was good way to spend a lot of time in close proximity to a dozen or so oceanic blacktip, with a few shy bull sharks hanging back a bit further.
Back on the surface, there was quite of bit to see as well. There were lots of seabirds around, often we saw dolphins and every day there were humpback whales – on one occasion a pod of more than a dozen passed within 30m of the boat. Heading back to shore, our skipper radioed the “harbour” master to schedule our arrival – it’s hard enough going back through the surf without having to dodge other boats. The skipper stopped just outside the surf line for a moment to judge the waves, and then gunned the engine, reminding us that we were going to hit the beach hard. And hit it hard we did.
All in all, it was an excellent five days of top-notch shark diving, competently run. Just one word of warning: It’s seriously advanced diving, and the dive operator assumes that you can handle it. I’d certainly love to go back again, especially at a time of year when the tiger sharks are around and the big schools of hammerheads show up.
Papua New Guinea - Kimbe Bay - Vitu Islands
By Charlie Elliott
Duncan Heuer, and I recently returned from an amazing few weeks in Papua New Guinea. For years I have heard about how fantastic the diving is in PNG with the viz and remoteness both being massive draws.
The first surprise for me was how easy it was to get there - flights from Brisbane to Port Moresby with Qantas, and coming from Sydney we were able to check our bags straight through.
We had a few days at Walindi Resort, based in Kimbe Bay on New Britain https://walindiresort.com/ either side of a week-long liveaboard. They have two operating from the resort, we went out with the MV Oceania https://www.mvoceania.com/, or there is also the Febrina https://www.mvfebrina.com/. Due to the prevailing weather our route took us out to the Vitu Islands.
Diving from the resort was well set up, you booked on the night before and headed out from the dive jetty. Snacks and lunch are provided and you get 3 dives on a standard trip. Night dives are also organised. My highlight of my day out from the resort was hanging on a net on the side of the dive boat to watch dolphins in the water!
I have nothing but praise for the liveaboard, it’s a 27 metre catamaran and was brilliantly set up. The dive deck was perfect with plenty of storage and drying room and a big camera table. Great food, friendly staff and 30 degree water all make for a fabulous trip.
Visibility to die for
We did 3 - 4 dives a day, viz was generally pretty fantastic, with well over 40 m on many dives. I was deeply impressed with the health of the coral. Many dives were filled with sunlight and looked spectacular with massive quantities of fish across beautiful reefs.
We did see some big schools of Jacks and Baracuda and occasional sharks but for me this trip wasn’t about the pelagics.
My big passion is for the small stuff and I was overjoyed with heaps of interesting crabs and shrimp, literal crowds of pipefish, plus my first mandarin fish and two spot (or fu manchu) lionfish!
Mandarinfish, porcelain crab, pipefish and lionfish
It was an absolute joy to dive in just a rashvest and I hope to see a URG trip back there soon!
Internal flights - the morning flight is usually the safest - there are lots of delays and late flights will potentially see you pushed to the following day
Air Niugini gives you 15kgs extra luggage if you are bringing scuba gear (but you have to remind them at the check-in desk)
Your resort will organise airport transfers
Bring clothes that cover your knees and shoulders for any local tours
We didn't need to draw any local currency
Check out Loloata Island diving if you need to stay in Port Moresby
Red Indian Fish, Oct 2003
By Michael Abbott
Anchored up and down we go into green flatwater at near low tide. Check anchor and down to
sand. There is a red indian fish sitting out on a separated rock. Along east to see PJs and crested
horn sharks, to a juvenile boxfish (like a golf ball with fins). Then I found what I thought was a golf
or Ping-Pong ball and what’s that? Only another red indian fish sitting beside it trying to look like a
Swam along rock edge to a weedy high in the mouth of a cave. Turn around at the pineapple fish
and head back. Janet looking at nudibranchs, tap her to show her the 100s of small yellowtail king fish
coming at us on a collision course out of the blue. They stream past for a few minutes on both sides.
Hurry back to anchor and checkout 4 bubble shells on rock beside it. Now into serious bottom time so up to safety top, back to boat with a total 1 hour under water.
Viz was 15 meters, oh and lots of sponges etc for those that don’t like fish. According to the second group I missed the Bleekers blue devilfish. Oh well you can’t have everything on a dive. Biggest picnic yet on boat with cheese, crackers, teacake, tim-tams, and gingernuts.
Facebook has been busy. Return and Earn is going well helping the environment and URG coffers. Mr Turnbull has been doing some fantastic modelling of dive sites. Recent dive events include Weedy Seadragon searches at Kurnell, Sea Slug census, pleasure dives off the boat and the Annual General Meeting at Chowder Bay.
Many of our members have been taking advantage of borders reopening and making the rest of jealous of their exotic dive trips. It would be great to get some write-ups on these activities for our January bulletin along with some insider tips for those of us that are considering visiting those destinations.
Get ready for Christmas dives and festival gatherings.
Boat dives have resumed post COVID19 lockdowns and the URG cat is heading out most weekends from the St George Motor Boat Club Marina in San Souci. Check https://www.urgdiveclub.org.au/dive-calendar and Facebook for dates and conveners to book onto dives.
To book on please click the spreadsheet linked in the event and pop your name on the list. Please also send a text to the convenor so they can confirm with you the times to meet.
No listing . Means there is no convener assigned to this day. However, all members are invited to organise a dive if they wish. You will need a URG Committee approved boat driver as well as a minimum of four (4) divers paying the usual maintenance contribution. Please coordinate the use of the boat with the Dive Officer.
Boat handling lessons. Pablo is willing to run more lessons in boating skills covering everything from docking to to knots. Contact him via facebook if interested.
Nelson Bay's 30th sea slug census details:
Published Items. The opinions expressed in the “URG Bulletin” are not necessarily those held by members, or the committee of the URG Dive Club. All material published in the URG Bulletin will remain the property of the original author or artist. Please give acknowledgment when citing articles.
Please check with the author informing them of your intention to republish their material, prior to publishing your article.